A new and long-awaited effort to tackle the legal regime covering the sharing of data by public bodies will get under way this autumn. Newspapers reported over the weekend that a white paper on data sharing may contain draft legislation to be introduced after the general election.
Earlier this summer ministers admitted that they had run out of time to introduce legislation before the election. Last month the Law Commission recommended that wholesale reform is needed to untangle the current web of confusion about when it is permissible to exchange routine data about citizens.
Today's Daily Telegraph reports that ministers have plans to aggregate and mine data about individuals in order to run public services more nimbly - and cheaply. "Information including voters' driving licences, criminal records, energy use and even whether they use a bus pass could be shared under a radical blueprint to link up thousands of state databases used by schools, councils, police and civil servants," the newspaper reported, noting that "The proposals are likely to ignite privacy concerns."
It said that proposals, drawn up by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, will appear in a white paper. Under the most wide-ranging option being considered, private data could be shared by "all bodies providing public services" - permitting private companies to receive unprecedented amounts of citizens' data.
Ministers believe they could save the state up to £37 billion a year in error and fraud if they were able to harmonise thousands of state databases. That could include checking whether bus pass holders are still alive, or establishing whether people claiming council tax rebates are really students.
In July, the Law Commission's report on data sharing recommended that a full law reform project be carried out "in order to create a principled and clear legal structure for data sharing, which will meet the needs of society". It noted that "data sharing law must accord with emerging European law and cope with technological advances."
The timing of the reform programme suggests that official data sharing may become an issue in the 2015 general election.